The Story of the Christian Brothers in Oceania
While the story of the Christian Brothers begins in 1802 when Edmund Rice established his first school in Waterford, Ireland, the story of the Christian Brothers in Oceania starts in 1843 in Sydney.
Brothers Stephen Carroll, Peter Scannell and Francis Larkin arrived and established three schools in Abercrombie Street, Macquarie Street and Kent Street the Rocks before returning to Ireland in 1846 after issues with the local Church authorities.
In 1868, the Christian Brothers returned to Australia, this time arriving in Melbourne on the sailing ship Donald McKay. Its leader was the 34 year-old Br Patrick Ambrose Treacy and his three companions were Brothers Dominic Fursey Bodkin (24), John Barnabas Lynch (29) and non-teaching Brother Patrick Joseph Nolan (45).
The ‘schools’ opened on the 25 January 1869 at St Francis’s Church in central Melbourne. On 29 January 1871 Parade College was opened in Victoria Parade, Melbourne. Over the next ten years the Christian Brothers opened schools in Brisbane, Perth, Dunedin and Adelaide.
They also became involved in orphanages in Melbourne and Perth. It was due to the needs of the country areas that approval was given to open boarding schools.
While in the early days most of the Brothers were from Ireland, ‘colonials’ soon began to join the Brothers in Australasia. The first person to lead the Brothers in Australasia was Michael Benignus Hanrahan from Dunedin.
From the 1920s until the 1960s there was an influx of people joining the Brothers and so many new schools were opened.
With the growing numbers in 1953, the Australasian Province was divided first into two provinces. In 1959, New Zealand became a separate province in its own right. In 1967 the two Australian Provinces divided into four.
This was to remain until 2007 when the five provinces and the region of Papua New Guinea restructured into the current Oceania Province – incorporating Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Timor Leste.
In 1952, a group of Brothers established the first Christian Brothers’ community and school in Papua New Guinea and the first Melanesian Brother was received in 1957. By the 1960s, the Brothers were working in primary and secondary education, child welfare, schools for those with diminished sight and hearing, teacher training colleges, technical education and universities.
With the call to mission in the 1960’s through to the 1980s, new communities were opened in the Cook Islands, Fiji, Tonga, East Africa and also with the indigenous people of Australia and New Zealand in such places as Murupara, Broome, Wadeye and Bathurst Island.
As a result of reflecting on the founding charism and the call to be with people made poor, new communities and projects where established in lower socio-economic areas such as Mangere in Auckland, the western suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne, Girrawheen in Perth and Logan City in outer Brisbane. Flexi learning and alternative education centres were also established. Some Brothers went to China to work in language schools and a community was established in Timor Leste.
From the mid 1970’s there was a dramatic decline in the number of people becoming Christian Brothers. The Brothers started to withdraw from some schools especially as the Provinces took on new projects.